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LANL Scholar Ayeh Safi is forging a new tradition

The first-ever recipient of the Sheila Morris Luna Scholarship is pursuing electrical engineering. Ayeh Safi comes from an Arabic Muslim family. She’s the daughter of Palestinian parents who came to the United States before she was born. As soon as she started school, Ayeh was aware that her Middle Eastern background made her different from her fellow students, and her commitment to education made her stand out in her family.

The first person in her family to graduate from high school and pursue a college degree, Ayeh has a strong desire for higher education and a career, which is a break from what is usually expected of Arab girls, she says. The scholarship’s first recipient Ayeh is now headed for the University of New Mexico, where she plans to study electrical engineering. As the first recipient of the Sheila Morris Luna Memorial Scholarship, Ayeh will receive $20,000 over four years. The new scholarship, administered by the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund, was endowed by Sue Seestrom, currently at Sandia (formerly at LANL), and Chris Morris of LANL in honor of their daughter.

Ayeh received an additional award of $1,000 from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, also managed by the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund. Initially, Ayeh’s parents were hesitant about letting her go to a university, where she would live on campus, away from her family. But a college-readiness program Ayeh participated in at Santa Fe’s Capital High School helped convince them that she was ready for the academic and social challenges. Thanks to the scholarships she received from the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund, Ayeh will have to worry less about finances and be able to focus on pursuing her academic and career goals. Her special interest in solar energy Although more and more women are now choosing electrical engineering, it’s an unusual career for a woman of Ayeh’s culture. She became interested in electrical engineering while taking Advanced Placement Environmental Science in high school. In that class,

Ayah’s interest grew in solar energy, particularly with one of the advanced ideas she was introduced to — solar roadways, the placement of specially engineered solar panels in roads. “New Mexico roads absorb so much heat,” she says, “and that energy is never utilized. I’ve seen a video suggesting that solar roadways in New Mexico might power most of the country. The idea is surreal to me, but with modern technology, we might make it happen.”  Ayeh knows her interests may expand as she pursues her education, but she’s certain she’ll remain focused on energy systems. “I want to work with people who are creating renewable, sustainable power.” Beyond that, she hopes to instill an eagerness for higher education in her siblings — and she has one more desire. “Hopefully, continuing my own education will allow me to change the traditional expectations of other females of my cultural and ethnic background,” she says, “and encourage them to establish their independence.”